Monday, June 21, 2021

Drew "Lefty" Rader

 by Susan Zehnder, Education Director

Wouldn’t it be great to travel back in time to find out the missing part of a story? A case in point involves "Lefty" Rader, a local baseball star, whose 1921 foray into the major leagues lasted two innings of one game.

"Lefty" was born Drew Leon Rader in 1901 to parents James Benjamin Franklin Rader and Ida May Vanatta Rader of Elmira. His father was a fire fighter then worked as an engineer for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Rader was the couple's only child. They lived on Jefferson Street, later moving to Pennsylvania Avenue to live above the Red Brick Food Mart, a small neighborhood grocery they owned and operated. 

Former Red Brick Food Mart

Young  Rader attended Grammar School Number 9 and finished 8th grade in 1914. He entered Elmira Free Academy that fall. In the EFA yearbook for 1920, it notes that senior Rader was “slow and steady” in his academic pursuits, which may account for why he shows up as a sophomore in the 1916, 1917, and 1918 yearbooks. He graduated when he was 20 years old in 1920.

Grammar School, No. 9

A 21st century lens suggests World War I, the 1918 flu pandemic, or lack of academic skills may have slowed his progress, but there’s no evidence for this. There is evidence that he had athletic and management skills. As a sophomore, Rader played on, and was team captain, for the varsity basketball team, something he repeated as a junior when the team had a championship season. As a sophomore, junior, and senior, he competed in the high jump for the track team. As a junior he was manager for the varsity baseball team and served on the school’s Athletic Council. And in his senior year, in addition to athletics, Rader served on the Athletic Council, sang second tenor in the Senior Glee club, and helped organize the Senior Reception, a large formal event. Outside of school he was Captain of Company B 10th regiment Military training commission. The wide range of his activities looks familiar to any current student applying to college. The description next to his senior portrait says that despite taking his time with academics “(h)e intends, however, to go to college…” which he did.  He enrolled and graduated from Syracuse University. So if Rader was the baseball manager, but didn't play for the school’s baseball team how was it he earned a berth as a pitcher for the 1921 Pittsburgh Pirates?


Apparently Rader showed such athletic promise and pitching prowess, he'd been been recruited and played for the Arctic League, a local semi-pro team. Articles in the Elmira Star Gazette praised his pitching, cool headedness, and overall potential for success in the game. The reporter also wrote of comments his father made that nothing would interfere with his son’s college aspirations.

Rader was 6’ 2” and 185 lbs.  Described as “husky” for his time, it was his left-handed pitching that earned him his nickname. Crowds would gather to watch him pitch. It was also his powerful southpaw style that brought in major league recruiters. Impressed, they offered Rader a spot on the 1921 Pittsburgh Pirates team. The 1921 season was notable for another reason. It was the year professional games were broadcast using the new medium of radio, and the  Pirates' games were among the first to hit the airwaves. 

When the twenty-year old joined the team, he proved in practice he could hit and throw with both hands. Things looked very promising. On July 18th, 1921, Rader made his debut in the seventh inning of a game against the New York Giants. He gave up two hits but kept the Giants scoreless. The Pirates went on to win the game that night. Later, two of his teammates and two of his opponents from that game were inducted into the Hall of Fame. In October the Giants won the 1921 World Series against the New York Yankees.


In February of 1922, Rader was traded to the Minneapolis Millers, a minor league team for “more schooling.” He never played for Millers, apparently unhappy with how he was treated. The feeling must have been mutual since he was placed on a voluntary retired list that May. He approached the Arctics about playing in Elmira again, but was turned down by the manager when his salary request was deemed “too high.”

In the fall of 1921 Rader entered Syracuse University. His affiliation with a professional team however came with restrictions. He was prohibited to play with the university baseball team. He studied business administration, was active in the Square and Compass club, manager of the Boar’s Head Dramatic Society, and a member of Beta Theta Pi, an honorary accounting fraternity. When he was a junior he was appointed team manager. 

Rader graduated from Syracuse in 1926 and in 1931, he married twenty-six year old Annette J. Cullen from a suburb of New York City. A year later their only child, a daughter, was born and Rader worked for the New York Telephone Company. They lived in Rockville Center, on Long Island, NY. The last reference to him playing ball shows up in a small article that mentions him playing for the 1931 Red Stars, a team sponsored by Macy’s. 

Here the trail ends. Rader died in 1975 with no obituary printed in the newspapers. An online search brings up a picture of him wearing a Pirates ball cap. This picture was added just a few years ago.

What circumstances stopped him from excelling as a ball player? Was he able to pursue his interests in managing and leadership the rest of his life? And what advice would he give to young players today? One can only dream.

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